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Sweatpants & TV | American Gods, Season 1, Episode 7: “A Prayer For Mad Sweeney”

By Emily Parker


If you’re behind, here’s where you can catch up:
Episode 1: The Bone Orchard
Episode 2: The Secret of Spoons
Episode 3: Head Full of Snow
Episode 4: Git Gone
Episode 5: Lemon Scented You
Episode 6: A Murder of Gods

This week, we learn what makes Mad Sweeney tick as we hear the tale of young Essie MacGowan. This was an odd episode. It could almost stand alone as its own story, independent of the series. It will be interesting to see why this particular story was assigned such importance within the whole.

Mr. Ibis tells the story.

“We get so few lovers’ quarrels, these days.”

We open upon Mr. Jaquel (Anubis) reassembling another corpse. Mr. Ibis joins him, holding two very old Irish red ales. Anubis says he can’t take a break – they’re expecting two more dead bodies in the morning. “Lover’s quarrel?” Ibis asks? “Overdose,” Anubis answers. Ibis retreats to tell us a story – the story of America as a dumping ground for criminals punished with indentured servitude as much as it was a destination for pilgrims – which he inscribes with “Coming to America, 1721.”

Young Essie MacGowan.

The Life of Essie MacGowan

Somewhere in Ireland, a young girl, brought up on tales of the wee folk, waits for the return of her father’s ship. Essie’s gran (Fionnula Flanagan) comes to keep her company, and tells her stories. Essie grows up leaving offerings for the leprechauns, and telling the old tales, carrying them on.

Essie’s gran tells tales.

“One does not ask favors from a leprechaun without a kindness of gold.”

As a late teen, we see Essie working in someone else’s household. Her tales seem to have captured the attention of the young man of the house, if not his heart. We see her do a bit of magic – an offering to the wee people – to presumably make this happen. She ties a lock of her hair around a small cake, and adds a gold coin – all of the money she has in the world. Mad Sweeney appears to take it.

“Who goes there?”

The leprechauns are fickle

That very night, as she’s leaving her nightly offering for the wee people, Bartholomew comes in and they make love. As they lie intertwined, she remarks that he will forget her when he goes to Oxford. He gives her a token and promises to marry her at Christmas. Unfortunately, this never comes to pass, because a maid reports Essie admiring her gift to the lady of the house, who believes she stole it. When Bartholomew is questioned, he proves a coward and betrays her, and Essie is arrested.

A bit of table action.

“You must hang for this, girl.”

The judge, rather than sentence Essie to hanging, puts her on a ship to the Americas, for seven years servitude. Perhaps owing yet again to the favors of the wee folk, Essie seduces the captain of the ship, who is persuaded to bring her back to London, where she is unknown. The captain marries her immediately upon their return. When he sets sail again eight weeks later with a fresh cargo, Essie robs him blind and takes off. “The world saw Essie MacGowan as a thief. So, ‘thief’, she became.”

Essie seduces the captain.

“Christ. Can a man get a moment alone with his prick?”

Cut to present day, to our weird-ass road trip featuring the cabbie, the leprechaun, and the dead wife. They stop so Salim can pray, and it’s ironically the site of a sacred cow, so to speak. Mad Sweeney pees in the bushes and one of Mr. Wednesday’s ravens squawks at him from above. “Fuck off. I WILL EAT YOU,” Sweeney snaps. He mentions that he is holding up his end of the bargain. One gets the sense that he and the bird have something of a history of uncomfortable chats.

Mad Sweeney glares at Wednesday’s raven.

“I am releasing you. You are released from your bargain. Fuck off.”

Laura and Mad Sweeney discuss the merits of letting Salim go. Sweeney is dead set against it, but Laura does so anyway. Salim, for his part, is all too willing to leave. He points at Mad Sweeney as he goes. “You are an unpleasant creature,” he scolds. Mad Sweeney looks less than surprised to hear this.

Salim’s opinion of Mad Sweeney is uncomplimentary.

“I’ve always wanted to steal a car, so I’m going to steal yours.”

Laura and Mad Sweeney then jack an ice cream truck – smart thinking, since it can keep Laura’s decomposing body cold. The flies around her are getting pretty bad.

“Trust me, you don’t want this one to hit you.”

“Unfortunately, the more abundant the blessings, the more we forget to pray…”

We rejoin Essie in London, who has become quite a shoplifter. She seems happy, living by her own hand (so to speak), and seducing men at her leisure. She inevitably gets caught again. Awaiting the gallows, she languishes in a prison cell adjoining none other than Mad Sweeney. They chat as she leaves a bread crust for the wee folk – remembering her prayers once more now that she’s down on her luck. The two swap lies for a bit, and Sweeney seems to like her.

Essie captures attention wherever she goes.

“The condemned never know when the hangman has coiled his noose.”

It is, perhaps, owing to this fondness that Essie can attribute her next bit of luck. The warden, who looks approximately like a less bloated Steve Bannon (A.C. Peterson), brings Essie a little snack and an offer of a way to escape the gallows yet again – and, several weeks later, knocked up, she succeeds. Essie once again finds herself on a ship, headed to the Americas. This time, there is no smitten and dimwitted captain for her to take advantage of.

A little sex may be a small price to pay to escape the gallows.

Essie and her baby land in Norfolk, Virginia, and as luck would have it, the master has just lost his wife and is in need of wet nurse for his baby. Essie brings the children up on her Irish tall tales.

Essie lands in Norfolk.

“I was a king, once.”

Back in the stolen ice cream truck, Laura and Mad Sweeney make their way east. Laura wonders what Mr. Wednesday is really up to. Sweeney talks vaguely about his past, and how he was meant to go to war once. “On the eve of battle, I looked into the fire, and I saw my death, sure as Sunday.” He opted not to go to war, and therefore “owes a battle.”

Laura quips that dying isn’t so bad and, as if on cue, a bunny darts into the road. Laura swerves to miss it and rolls the ice cream truck. Her body is dashed open and Mad Sweeney’s lucky coin rolls free of her ribcage.

Not nearly dead, or merely dead, but really quite sincerely dead.

“There were good days and there were bad, in their usual balance. But? There were many.”

Back in Norfolk, Essie has managed to work her charms on John Richardson, the master of the plantation. She rebukes him for touching her – a poor widow woman and an indentured servant, to boot! Master Richardson (Peter Cockett) immediately proposes, effectively ending her servitude. One cannot tell whether she has genuine feelings for him or whether this was another well-played con, but the two do have a son together. They are married a decade before John dies of fever.

Essie & John’s wedding.

No room for the spirits of old 

Essie grows old on the plantation, and scares her grandchildren with the old stories. Eventually, she quits telling them altogether. One day, as befitting an old Irish woman sitting on her porch, Mad Sweeney comes to collect her soul.

Old Essie.

“Tell him it’s done.”

Meanwhile, in present day, Mad Sweeney comes to in the wreckage. Laura is well and truly dead, without his lucky coin to sustain her. He picks up the coin and kisses it. His thoughts flash back to a very much alive (but not for long) Laura, shivering outside the wreckage that killed her in the first place. It would seem that Mad Sweeney had a little something to do with Laura’s original death, at Wednesday’s behest. He curses a bit in Gaelic, then tucks the coin back into Laura’s chest.

Immediately reanimated, Laura rights the truck. “C’mon, move it!” She orders. Sweeney trudges towards her, glaring, and the two drive off, to the sour tones of the truck’s loudspeaker, which is playing “Hail to the Bus Driver.”

Mad Sweeney sees Laura’s body.

“She was still warm when they found her…”

Old Essie and Mad Sweeney chat for a bit about the old country, and how America isn’t the same. “If you are who I think you are,” she says, “then I have no quarrel with you.” “Nor I with you,” Sweeney smiles kindly. He takes her hand.

Mad Sweeney collects Essie.

Stray Observations:

  • I loved the music in this episode. Tons of great 50’s doo-wop. I especially loved the choice of song when Essie is robbing her new husband – Dion’s “Runaround Sue.”
  • Young (teen and adult) Essie is played by Emily Browning, who also plays Laura. I’ll be interested whether there is a connection between the two women other than Mad Sweeney.
  • Fionnula Flanagan plays both Essie’s gran and old Essie.
  • Mad Sweeney curses in Gaelic as he revives Laura. According to some translators, it roughly equates to him cursing out Mr. Wednesday, or “Haven’t I believed enough in your bullshit? Haven’t I suffered enough? Isn’t that enough itself? I’m not evil! I’m not!”
  • Laura’s modesty about her exposed ribs when Mad Sweeney resurrects her was cute. “Don’t look!”
  • This episode did an amazing job humanizing Mad Sweeney. He’s not quite the prick we thought, eh? He’s jeopardizing his continued existence to keep Laura alive, at this point. And why? Guilt? Spite? A misguided sense of obligation? Time will tell.

Quoth Mr. Wednesday:

Mr. Wednesday did not appear in this episode, but I was fond of this one:

“Intelligence is not uncommon among women, and beauty is had by all of seventeen.” – Mr. Ibis.

Join us next week for Season 1, Episode 8: Come to Jesus.

All images: Sweatpants & Coffee / Emily Parker

Emily Parker is a musician, writer, and avid reader who started Bucket List Book Reviews, the ‘1,001 Books to Read Before You Die’ project. For Sweatpants & Coffee, Emily hopes to inspire the reading of the classics by a whole new audience by only reviewing the really good stuff.

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